Davis Brothers Lumber Co. Story (DBL-S)

(The complete history will be published in an historical volume by Nicholas Ducote, to be published in 2015.)

Ansley and the Davis Brothers Lumber Co.

Located twenty miles north of Hodge in Ansley, the Davis Brothers Lumber Company employed a different business strategy than Huie-Hodge. Although both firms owned between 65,000 and 100,000 acres of timberland and began their operation around 1900, Huie-Hodge’s establishing an efficient network of common carrier and private logging roads that linked three mills and over 100,000 acres of timberland. Instead of erecting multiple mills, like Hodge-Hunt, Davis Brothers concentrated their milling efforts in Ansley, and continually upgraded their capacity.  The Davis Brothers built a private logging railroad, the East & West Louisiana Railway, which did not become a common carrier, despite a lawsuit.  Hodge-Hunt purchased their land in large segments (a style used by speculators), but the Davis Brothers purchased their vast timberlands piecemeal.  Although both firms owned over 65,000 acres of timberland, the Davis Brothers remained in operation for almost thirty years after Hodge-Hunt sold out, primarily because they harvested timber and produced lumber at a slower rate (in 1909, 75,000 for the Davis Brothers vs. 125,000 for Huie-Hodge).  The two firms exemplified two different business models: Hodge-Hunt was formed by a conglomeration of southern-born businessmen, with railroads linking three company towns, while Davis Brothers was a family business focused around the community of Ansley.

Like many of the lumberman who developed North Louisiana’s timber resources, the Davis brothers trained in South Arkansas before opening their mill in Ansley, Louisiana. By 1873, three of his sons – John (21), James (17), and Virgil (14) – were old enough to assist full-time in the mill, while Robert (8) assisted as much as possible. Sometime in the late-1870s, John D. moved the Prescott mill to Waldo in order to utilize the newly built Cotton Belt Railroad, which opened in 1877 and linked Cairo, Illinois with Texarkana. The four Davis brothers worked at their father’s sawmill until the late-1880s. In October 1891, John D. suffered a stroke and was discovered dead in his stable. Sometime in the late-1880s, the four Davis brothers began their own lumber operation south of Waldo, Arkansas. John and Virgil operated a mill in Lumber, while James and Robert operated a mill in New Lumber – both shipped lumber on the Cotton Belt. The only record of their firm has it simply named “J.M. & V.M. Davis, Manufacturers and Dealers in Rough & Dressed Lumber.” At their mills, they manufactured furniture, mill fixtures, sash, doors, blinds, and undertaker goods. By the late-1890s, the industry clear-cut most of the virgin timber in South Arkansas and the Davis brothers looked south for more virgin timberland.

In October 1899, the Davis Brothers traveled to Ruston and set off south on horseback to survey Lincoln, Jackson, and Bienville parish timberland. Their first purchase of North Louisiana timberland was in Bienville Parish on October 19, 1899. In 1900, the Davis Brothers sold their interests in Columbia County, Arkansas. They named the town after Virgil’s wife, Marie Antoinette Ansley. They spent the first two years carving the village of Ansley from the virgin pine forests of Jackson Parish along the Arkansas Southern. Twenty or thirty families from their operations in Arkansas moved to Ansley and helped erect the sawmill and town. On December 17, 1902, James, Virgil, John, and Robert W. Davis incorporated the Davis Brothers Lumber Company, Ltd with $100,000 in capital stock. Two days later, Pamie N. Davis, eldest son of James, sawed the first log at Ansley. The planing mill went online four months later in March 1903. They acquired their timberlands in small portions, usually buying privately-owned land. By 1907, they extended a logging railroad five miles through their timber northwest from Ansley. Most of the timber was yellow pine, but there was also an assortment of beech, cottonwood, tupelo, black gum, red gum, oak and hickory.